Let’s face it – everyone loves looking young with spotless, smooth skin that will catch gazes. However, in today’s world, various factors, including aging, illnesses, negligence, genetics, diet, and lifestyle, hamper the maintenance of bright, firm-looking skin.
These factors cause skin laxity, which makes the skin loosen and lose its brightness. This results in loose, sagging skin, eye bags, wrinkles, and fine lines.
A few decades ago, this problem was incurable. But due to the medical and technological advancements in the recent past, this issue can be combated effectively. The research on laser technology has opened up multiple treatments for skin tightening. These treatments have been deemed safe by medical experts.
With more people looking to restore their more youthful appearance or simply aiming towards firmer skin, laser skin tightening treatments are becoming viable and rapidly popular. Not only do they tighten skin, but they also help to even the skin tone and eliminating acne scars. Moreover, these laser treatments are considered safe and speedy and come with a meager downtime.
These treatments are relatively new in the medical circuit and can cause skepticism among people. This article aims to answer some of the most asked questions surrounding these laser skin tightening treatments.
We will discuss how laser skin tightening works, exactly how safe and viable these treatments are, whom these treatments are for and how big of a drain they are for your pockets. A detailed study on the longevity and effectiveness of these treatments has also been included.
What is Laser Skin Tightening?
A skin tightening laser treatment is a minimally invasive procedure used to combat skin laxity, firm sagging skin and, even skin tone. The laser technology penetrates and targets the deeper layers of the skin. The skin tightening laser heats the collagen in the dermis of the skin and causes it to constrict. This results in tighter, more plump skin.
Skin tightening laser treatments promise plastic surgery-like results without the recovery period or the complications. It can be performed on areas of the body which are more prone to sagging or crepey skin.
This non-surgical skin tightening procedure is perhaps the fastest way to get rid of crepey, sagging skin. The effects of this skin tightening treatment can be seen immediately after the treatment. The method used for laser skin tightening varies with different issues and skin types. Depending on your needs, a different skin tightening laser might be used. It depends on a range of factors that we will be discussing in detail further into the read.
Skin: Structure and Skin Laxity
Before we delve into how to fix sagging skin with skin tightening treatments, it is important that we understand how the integumentary system works.
The skin is divided into three primary layers:
The Epidermis is the outer layer of your skin. It can be described as the skin’s surface. This thin layer protects your skin from foreign materials and acts as a waterproof barrier between the inner layers and the outside world. The epidermal layer might be very thin but is very durable.
It protects the inner layers of your skin from foreign infectious bacterias or viruses that can cause problems. Other than the protection of your inner layers, the epidermis is also responsible for your skin tone.
This layer contains cells called melanocytes which produce melanin – which decides the tone of your skin.
Below the Epidermis is the Dermis. The dermal layer is one of the deeper layers of your skin and manages a host of functions, including the vasculature (blood vessels), nerves, sweat glands, and hair follicles.
It also supports sensation and regulation of body temperature. It contains cells called fibroblasts that handle the synthesis of proteins like collagen and elastin, giving our skin the required firm and shaped look.
One of the deep layers is Hypodermis, also known as the subcutaneous tissue. The hypodermis can be seen as a support structure that binds all the layers of the skin and protects the internal organs.
Now that we know the basic anatomy of our skin, let us also look at how the factors mentioned above can cause the skin to lose its structure and become loose or crepey.
In theory, it is easier to note what doesn’t affect the integral structure of your skin than to understand what does. The structure of your skin is upheld by two proteins in the dermal layer – collagen and elastin.
Collagen provides sturdiness and integrity to the skin structure, while elastin gives it elasticity (the ability to regain its shape after stretching or contraction).
The synthesis of natural collagen and elastin starts declining after a certain age. However, age is not the only factor. Other main intrinsic causalities include genetics and the decline in the working of other cutaneous mechanisms.
This includes the sebaceous glands and sweat glands. The sebaceous glands secrete oils that help in maintaining bright, hydrated skin. With age, a reduction in the secretions of this gland is noticed. As a result, wrinkles and fine lines develop on the skin.
There are extrinsic factors for loose skin as well. These include sun exposure, exposure to ultraviolet rays, bad diet, sleep schedule, and external damage.
This study found out that when collagen was irradiated with ultraviolet rays, a collagen breakdown took place. The collagen fibers entered a non-equilibrium state where they did not hold their structure properly.
Loose skin or sagging skin can also develop after rapid weight loss. At higher weights, the collagen and elastin in the skin can get damaged. When one loses weight rapidly, the two proteins might not be able to return to their original form, which can result in crepey, sagging skin.
Who is the Laser Skin Tightening Procedure For?
Any individual between the age of 30-60 is considered fit for the laser treatment. This non-surgical skin tightening procedure can be done anywhere on the body but is popularly used for stomach, face, and neck skin.
Facial skin tightening can help get rid of wrinkles, fine lines, and even open pores.
This minimally invasive treatment is also great if you have moderately lax skin or the signs of loose skin are beginning to appear. The laser treatment is very effective but may not be your best bet in case of extreme sagging skin.
It is also not recommended for you to go for this procedure if you are insulin-dependent. This is a preventive caution as insulin-dependent individuals are at high risk of getting an infection due to this surgery. Any related side effects might also get exacerbated due to the skin tightening treatment.
For people with photosensitive epilepsy or seizure-prone users, any procedure involving lasers is not recommendable. However, if you are not photosensitive, a laser procedure might be safe to go through. Talk to the concerned professionals before going through.
Also, laser skin tightening treatments during pregnancy are to be avoided.
It is also advisable that you do not use any chemical peels or masks a month before the treatment.
It is highly recommended that you consult a cosmetic dermatologist before going through any procedure related to your skin. Ensure that you openly discuss your medications and health condition so that they can advise you on the best way forward.
Ablative Vs. Non-Ablative Lasers
When researching for your laser treatment, you might have come across two types of lasers- ablative and non-ablative.
On a general note, ablative lasers are more potent lasers fit for extreme levels of sagging and loose skin. Non-ablative lasers are less invasive, less potent lasers that are useful for wrinkles and fine lines.
These less potent lasers are more commonly used for facial skin treatments and treating more sensitive areas.
Ablative lasers use what a cosmetic dermatologist would call ‘ablation’ to treat the skin. Ablation refers to the complete destruction or chipping off of the epidermis using heat.
The laser then directly works on the dermis and increases new collagen production. This laser wounds the upper layer of the skin and stimulates regrowth.
This stimulated growth leads to the formation of a new epidermal layer in place of the treated skin, which is smoother and tighter. In this way, skin tightening is achieved.
Ablative Lasers are also useful for other treatments that use photoablation. These include treating skin cancer and the removal of skin cancer tumors.
Examples of ablative lasers are carbon-di-oxide lasers and Erbium YAG lasers.
Non-ablative lasers treat the dermis without damaging or causing any significant change in the epidermal layers. It delivers a precise, controlled wavelength that causes minor injuries to the cells in the dermis of the skin.
In the cellular rebuilding process, more collagen is produced, and firmer, tighter-looking skin is achieved.
These lasers do not pose any harm and are often pain-free treatments. They can have great results for wrinkles and fine lines. However, problems with deeper roots in the skin, like deeper lines and warts, may not be fully treated with a non-ablative laser.
Some treatments that use these minimally invasive lasers are Intense Pulsed Light therapy and neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (Nd-YAF) laser therapy.
How does the Treatment Work?
The procedure is typically short and will come under the outpatient department treatment. Depending upon the area needed to be treated, it will take anywhere from around 30 minutes to a few hours.
To avoid the risk of viral or fungal infection, you will be given an anti-viral medicine before the procedure.
The cosmetic dermatologist will then examine the areas that require treatment and decide the modality of the treatment. If it is going to be an ablative laser treatment, you may be given a sedative to reduce the pain. A skin-numbing cream might be used alternatively.
The dermatologist will then adjust the laser beam size depending upon how deep the laser needs to go. The laser will then be projected on the targeted areas of your skin for short periods of time. The patient might experience some pain or discomfort depending upon the intensity of the laser beam and the modality of the treatment.
Also, multiple treatment sessions might be required. This depends on the desired result and the decided modality of treatment.
Benefits of Going Under the Skin Tightening Laser
We labeled laser skin tightening treatment as viable because it comes with a host of benefits. These are not limited only to the skin tightening effect but also advantages in other aspects.
1. Helps One Feel Younger
Laser skin tightening and skin rejuvenation can noticeably alter your skin and bring forth a more youthful appearance. Not only does it make you look younger, but it will also make you feel younger.
The treated skin, with a little downtime, elevates your appearance. The bright, spotless skin is noticeable a few days after the treatment and can help you feel more confident.
2. Get Rid of Wrinkles and Fine Lines
Wrinkles become inevitable at a point due to aging. The more potent laser treatments that we have discussed can help in removing these lines and wrinkles from their roots. The result is healthier skin that is smooth and plump.
3. Get Rid of Crepey Skin
Crepey skin can be caused by various factors. These factors include aging, pregnancy, or even rapid weight loss. Laser skin tightening treatment constricts the collagen to the affected areas and boosts the production of collagen and elastin.
This helps give the skin a firmer, less crepey, less saggy look. This non-surgical skin tightening procedure can also be monumental in reducing the prominent appearance of striae (stretch marks).
4. Reduces Hyperpigmentation and Spots
Hyperpigmentation of the skin can cause darker patches to appear on the skin. Weak laser treatments can help in reducing the concentration and lightening these spots.
Laser skin tightening can also help ward off spots on the skin. Age spots and red spots have been shown to get treated with this option too.
5. Removes Under Eye Bags
Laser skin tightening can also help in the removal of under-eye bags. Since these treatments try to produce more collagen, they can uplift the skin surrounding your eyes and make them look shallow and bright.
Risks Related to Nonsurgical Skin Tightening with Lasers
Although these treatments have been deemed safe by the medical fraternity, there are certain risks and disadvantages that you should keep in your mind before moving forward with the skin tightening procedure.
The lasers use heat to either destroy the epidermis or promote the regrowth of cells in your skin. This heating effect makes the skin tightening treatment painful to some extent. The pain induced by weaker lasers can be compared to that experienced during a hot stone massage.
However, when it comes to more potent ablative lasers, they can cause a remarkable amount of pain during the procedure. In some cases, post-procedure pain and scarring have also been noticed.
In a study, it was found that patients treated with a carbon-di-oxide laser were less susceptible to scarring and post-procedure complications as compared to erbium lasers. In some cases, the scarring was permanent.
Also, there may be redness and skin irritation after the treatment. Although it is acceptable that these effects ensue for a few days near the treated skin, there have been cases where the redness and irritation lasted for a longer period.
In some cases, it required further separate treatment. Minor swelling for a short period post-procedure may also be experienced around the treatment area.
This treatment might also leave you more susceptible to fungal or viral infections. The most common amongst them is the herpes virus. If proper care is not taken, it can turn into a full-blown post-treatment infection.
Also, sun exposure for a few weeks after the treatment session should be avoided at all costs. Any exposure to the sun can lead to uneven pigmentation on the skin, which cannot be treated later.
A similar course of action should be followed for a few weeks before the treatment as well. Some ablative laser treatments require you to cut off sun exposure for up to a few months.
Another noticeable disadvantage of these skin-tightening procedures is the price. We will be discussing the cost of these treatments in detail further into the read.
Popular Laser Treatment Options
1. Pulsed Dye Laser
The pulsed dye laser ( commonly known as PDL) uses an organic dye with a solvent as the medium for lasing. It works around a wavelength of 595 nm to produce the desired results on the skin.
The pulsed dye laser works on the principle of selective thermolysis. Selective thermolysis refers to providing heat to the target area for only so long that only the target area absorbs it, and the surrounding tissue remains unscathed.
This laser has proven effective for being a minimally invasive skin treatment option that not only works to tighten skin but also removes other abnormalities like rosacea and striae. It is considered the gold standard equipment for treating spider veins and vascular lesions.
The selective thermolysis process targets the blood vessels- especially the hemoglobin. This causes them to coagulate and get reabsorbed by the body. This results in newer skin that is firmer and tighter than the one before treatment.
The pulsed dye laser is non-ablative and does not require any significant downtime after treatment. The patient can see results quickly with this treatment option.
However, if you are dealing with highly loose skin, this might not be the most viable option. Since this laser is less potent and works superficially on the skin layers, it might not be able to treat deep-rooted issues effectively.
2. Erbium: YAG Laser
The ablative Erbium: YAG laser is perhaps one of the best options when it comes to skin tightening and reconstruction. This fractionated laser helps in the removal of specific amounts of the skin and aids in their regrowth.
The fractional laser projects thousands of tiny beams of laser on the targeted area. This results in controlled damage to the outermost layer of the skin. It uses a wavelength of 2940, which is comparatively very high compared to that of the pulsed dye laser.
This wavelength is optimal for skin ablation and allows for instant ablation without damaging surrounding areas. Compared to other ablative lasers, the Erbium: YAG is less painful. Another technical advantage that this laser has is that its treatment depth can be modified.
The removal of the outer epidermis after Erbium: YAG treatment lets the skin rebuild stronger, as collagen and elastin production is spiked. This leaves the skin looking and feeling tighter and plumper.
A study by Moetaz El-Domyati and his team found out that there was a significant rise in the production of new collagen and tropoelastin after multiple sessions with the Erbium laser.
This ablative laser is also a helpful option when it comes to fighting hyperpigmentation and dark spots. For facial skin, this is one of the safer ablative treatment options.
3. CO2 Laser
The carbon dioxide laser is one of the older and more relied upon lasers. The CO2 laser can be used fractionally or as an ablative skin treatment option. This laser is known for the wondrous effects it brings about for skin tightening and rejuvenation.
The CO2 laser works at a wavelength of 10900 nm and aims to target both dermal and epidermal layers of the skin. Much like the Erbium: YAG, this laser removes certain areas of the skin tissue and boosts collagen production.
After the destruction of these skin cells, the body starts a natural rebuilding process, with more collagen being produced naturally. This leads to the formation of newer skin that is naturally more firm and elastic.
This study researched the effects of fractional carbon dioxide laser treatment and noted a significant rise in the skin’s elasticity, smoothness, and firmness.
The major advantage that the CO2 laser offers is that you can target multiple cosmetic problems at once. This includes deep fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, skin laxity around the face and the neck, and even stretch marks! Despite it being an ablative laser, it has been used in various areas of the body to great effect!
There is a debate amongst medical experts over whether fractional CO2 laser treatment yields better results than the ablative laser or not. The fractional laser allows keeping the skin surrounding the target area intact, which allows for rapid healing.
The transformations brought about by CO2 lasers are truly impressive and noticeable. It works to tighten skin and also removes blemishes, dark spots. CO2 lasers are also known for creating long-lasting results on the skin.
4. ND: YAG Laser
The Neodymium yttrium aluminum garnet non-ablative laser is essentially a crystal that is used as a medium for lasers. The ND: YAG laser has multiple utilities and is a recently researched laser compared to the others on our list.
It works on similar principles as other lasers on our list. The outer layer of the skin is destroyed using heat from the laser to promote the growth of newer skin that is tighter and brighter.
It uses a wavelength of 1094 nm to bring about the desired results. The ND: YAG laser comes in handy when treating vascular lesions, hyperpigmentation, and skin laxity. It is also used to treat more sensitive areas like the face and the chest.
Like other lasers, the ND: YAG also causes some levels of pain during treatments but brings about gold standard results in cases of spider veins, crepey skin, and wrinkles.
It has also been shown to be effective in flattening and tightening the skin in the abdomen and lower belly area. Other implications include upliftment and tightening of saggy skin around the jawline and effective removal of pigmented lesions.
5. Alexandrite Laser
The Alexandrite laser was discovered in 1964 and has been continuously researched. Its implications in cosmetics and dermatology have since been brought into use to great effect. It works at a wavelength of 755 nm to deliver a red laser that improves natural collagen production.
This laser system is known for making the whole non-surgical procedure pain-free. This laser is non-ablative and tries to bring about changes in the inner layers of the skin without compromising the epidermis.
It has been proven vital in treating cases of spider veins and pigmented lesions in sensitive areas of the body. Reduction of age spots, wrinkles, crepey skin, and fine lines has also been noticed in the post-procedure profiles of patients.
A study was conducted in 2016 that found out that the Alexandrite laser was also extremely useful in treating rosacea and facial erythema.
The Alexandrite laser is perhaps one of the lesser invasive procedures in the cosmetic industry. It is usually prescribed in cases of low or moderate levels of skin sagging. It usually requires multiple sessions and can bring about facial rejuvenation for photo-damaged skin.
How Long does Laser Treatment Last?
The longevity of the effects of laser skin tightening has been a matter of debate in medical society. There are claims that with multiple treatments, the effects last up to eighteen months. After this period of time, your skin might succumb to the ill effects of aging and uncensored exposure again.
It is also believed that with the right skincare, these effects can last longer. In some cases, the effects lasted up to 2-3 years. This included using more organic cosmetics and strictly restricting exposure to sunlight.
There are treatments out there that promise permanent skin tightening. It must be understood that these procedures work to constrict and produce more collagen to achieve the desired results.
The collagen and elastin might get damaged again due to negligence, and you may face skin laxity again. With this in mind, it is safe to say that no laser skin tightening treatment can offer permanent changes in the skin structure.
Although, it is agreeable that the effects can be extended with proper care, as mentioned above. We recommend talking to a highly trained skincare professional to ensure that you walk down the right path after your treatment.
You can also get further touch-up treatments after your laser skin tightening that can boost the longevity of your skin’s new texture.
What is the Cost of Laser Skin Tightening Treatment?
Laser skin tightening treatments are known to be a slight setback to your pockets. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the cost of laser resurfacing and skin tightening ranged between $1000 to $2500 in 2019.
The cost varies according to a host of factors. This includes the type of laser used for the treatment, the expertise of the cosmetic dermatologist, the treatment area to be covered, and the number of sessions required.
If you are treating small patches of skin, you might be charged only a few hundred dollars for each session. However, the price will increase for larger treatment areas. The price range mentioned above is with the multiple sessions in mind.
Generally, ablative laser treatments are more costly than their non-ablative counterparts. This is mainly attributed to the expertise required for these procedures and the primary cost of the equipment itself.
Since this is an optional cosmetic surgery, most insurance companies will not cover your expenses.
The Bottom Line
Lasers may be a newer entry in the field of non-surgical skin tightening treatment but have proved their mettle in terms of effectiveness and viability. These treatments minimize the risk of any life-altering complications and deliver safe and fruitful results.
Laser skin tightening is known to be fast -the effects can be noticed instantly, unlike some of the more invasive procedures.
Although they might not be very cost-effective, their implications for skincare and facial rejuvenation are many. The risks related to these treatments are minor and can be completely avoided with some sound advice from your dermatologist.
For any treatment on your skin, we recommend you consult a highly trained board-certified dermatologist and discuss your problems openly.
If this article helped you get a clearer picture of laser skin tightening treatments, let us know in the comments below!